Dean Ivan Lamb doesn’t waste any time. As his 1934 autobiography, The Incurable Filibuster: Adventures of Col. Dean Ivan Lamb, opens, he’s in a gambling house somewhere Uptown in New Orleans, at the wrong end of a crooked monte game.
Fed up, he says “you lose,” pulls his Colt, grabs the money from the table and hops on a waiting streetcar, shoving a bill into the conductor’s hand to get going. Exit the 20-year-old Lamb, pursued by a mob.
The book that follows is basically more of the same, a boozy boy’s own adventure story with Lamb as its square-jawed, slightly squiffy hero. From the Panama Canal Zone to the Mexico-United States border to the highlands of Bolivia to the pampas of southern Brazil, Lamb fought and schemed and caroused and carried on with rare vigor, serving in revolutionary and not-so-revolutionary armies and air forces (he learned to fly in 1912) in at least half a dozen Latin American countries.
And if most of those air forces consisted basically of him and him alone, he also served two years in the Royal Flying Corps during World War I, at the end of which he was given a medical discharge due to injuries sustained while shooting down one of the giant German Gotha bombers which had begun raiding London. (Uncharacteristically, he skips over this truly heroic episode.)
He did not do all that adventuring on malted milk or lemon squash. Whiskey helped. And Champagne, lots of Champagne, be it ice-cold in some South American officers’ club or heated by hours in the sun with a rebel army in the field. Add Scotch, rum and Coca-Cola (encountered in 1906, perhaps its earliest recorded appearance), aguardientes and cañas of various stripes, tequila (“ten-year-old tequila is equal to twenty-year-old whisky in bouquet, palatability and results” is his verdict) and an ocean of cachaça.
There was pisco, too. Indeed, as good an illustration of the tenor of Lamb’s book as any can be provided by his story of his brief career in the Peruvian air force, which began to unravel with a visit to Victor Morris’ famous bar in Lima, the cradle of the Pisco Sour:
“For two solid weeks the sun was invisible because of low-hanging clouds, preventing flights of more than eight hundred feet elevation. While it never rained, everything was damp and uncomfortable, leaving no occupation but out drinking the local rum hounds. In this pastime I was quite successful for several nights until ‘pisco’ was brought to my attention. I never learned what the liquid was derived from, but from personal experience believe it a triple distillation from nitroglycerin.
In Morris’ Bar I ordered a pisco sour. It tasted like a pleasant soft drink and I ordered another, to which the bartender objected informing me that one was usually sufficient. After an argument he made another—from that time events were not very clear but I have hazy recollections of an argument about another one, something of a fight in a Chinese restaurant, police, soldiers, more battles and crowds of people waking in the hotel with a guard of soldiers holding off people with bills for damages. Augusto Leguia [Lamb’s friend and a son of the Peruvian President] came around and smoothed over everything but after getting a report of the night’s doings it was embarrassing for me to remain in Lima, so I packed up and went to Callao to await a southbound steamer.”
Having had Pisco Sours at the Hotel Maury in Lima, where the bar was set up by Morris Bar alumni, I can testify to the strength of those Sours—the Maury still puts at least three ounces of pisco in each drink.
Unfortunately, Lamb’s book is out of print, although copies are still available. If there’s a better candidate for a reprint, I don’t know it. To read The Incurable Fillibuster is to discover another Indiana Jones movie, one put together just for boozy adults.
Hotel Maury Pisco Sour
Ingredients:3 oz Peruvian pisco (use a pure Quebranta-grape pisco if possible)1 oz Simple syrup (one part sugar, one part water)1 oz Fresh lime juicehalf of an egg white (if you lightly whip the white of an egg you can divide it easily into halves)Glass: CocktailGarnish: 4 or 5 Drops Angostura Bitters
Directions:Add all the ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake viciously, and strain into a large, chilled cocktail glass. Top with 4 or 5 drops of Angostura Bitters.
The Armchair Tippler is an occasional column devoted to books—new or old, fiction or nonfiction, prose or poetry—that display an unusual degree of engagement with beverage alcohol in all its myriad forms.